Don’t worry, NO SPOILERS!

I asked for (and got) Gone Girl last Christmas. Once I found out they were going to be making a movie of it, I thought I really should get to it soon. When the movie came out, I flew through it, desperate to finish it without being spoiled for anything. And I made it!

And I really liked it. There’s just so much going on – very twisty – that I can’t really talk about it too much without giving something away, so I’ll pretty much just leave it at that. I will weigh in on the somewhat controversial (so I’ve heard – again, I was desperately avoiding being spoiled so I didn’t actually click on any of the articles expressing outrage over the ending) and say that I thought it worked. I thought it was a good way of leaving things – maybe not very satisfying, but very real for everyone involved – at any rate, I definitely did not feel an urge to fling it through the nearest window as I’ve heard other people have.

My rating: A-

Let’s start at the very beginning…

So while I was in Colorado, I finally caved and drank the Kool-Aid that is Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, but the only one the bookshop had was How the Light Gets In which is, like, the ninth one in the series, I think? Well, I was finally able to start back at the beginning and get to know everyone in order!

Still Life by Louise Penny

I can’t speak much to the actual mystery that’s being solved here as it is an engrossing, but fairly standard mystery. The real stand-out in Louise Penny’s books (or at least the two I’ve read so far) is the large cast of characters and the village of Three Pines. While I was able to get to know everyone during How the Light Gets In it’s clear that this is more of an introductory version of everyone. And this one actually made me kind of like Clara Morrow who was my least favorite character from the ninth one. Inspector Gamache is smart but not infallible and his supporting cast are all individuals with their own personalities and back stories. I can’t wait to keep reading about Gamache and what else happens to Three Pines and its residents!

My rating: B+

Yes, I Read Romance Novels

There. I said it. I’d say it again if I had to.

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

This is the second book in Sarah MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrels series. I’m sure I read the first one, but I really don’t remember it at all! But this one was good, so I bet that one was good, too. The heroine is plucky and likable and the hero is smart, sexy, and only a teensy bit brooding. There’s some drama, but not too much – and super, amazing sexual tension! I was reading this in the car on the way back from Laura and Tyler’s wedding and at one point Drew tried to talk to me and I was like “Can’t. Talk. Finally got to. The first sex scene.” He was very impressed that it was a good 2/3 into the book before things finally got a bit heated – and so was I! I’m not super psyched for the Temple’s story – I don’t like him as much as I like the other three scoundrels. But I’m SUPER psyched for the fourth one – Chase’s story…I want to read eeeeeeet!

My rating: B+

Getting Caught Up: Book Edition

Part of my plan to get through the worst of my depression included rekindling my love of reading, something that the depression was sucking the joy completely out of. Frankly, since working at HK, I think my reading had been slightly less voracious – not entirely surprising when my job consisted of a lot of reading (after reading a set of pages for 8 hours at work, the last thing I really wanted to do when I got home was crack open a book). So one of my many goals is to read at least just a little bit every day. (Over the summer, to supplement our lack of income, Drew and I were doing plasma donation which basically meant a mandatory two hours of reading time each week and that definitely helped get me back into the habit of reaching for a book.)

And it seems to be working! Back in August, I set myself a Goodreads goal of finishing 10 books by the end of the year (I figured better to start off super achievable and make things more difficult if I reached that goal). Well, by early September, I’d already met that goal, so I’ve upped it to 20 books by the end of the year. We’ll see how I do! In the meantime, here are quick reviews of the 11 books I’ve read so far (from first read to most recently read):

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

When I spoke briefly with a counselor on campus, he suggested trying to live mindfully and recommended a couple of books for me. I have a couple others on the shelf that I need to get through, but I decided to try this one out. It was not really my thing… A little too floaty for my tastes, I think. I’m keeping my mind open to mindfulness, but I”m hoping the other books I have to try out will be a little more down-to-earth.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R.R. Martin

As I said earlier, Drew and I mainlined our way through the HBO Game of Thrones series this spring. Originally I’d been intending to read the books first cuz I”m a snob like that, but these books are door stops and it just wasn’t going to happen. But it’s kind of worked out for the best because between the TV show and the books, I think I’m finally understanding what’s actually going on. It’s hard to tell all the bearded men apart on television, so a lot of things are making a lot more sense now that I’m reading the books. I’m about a third of the way through the second book and so far the story lines all mirror the show’s pretty closely, but I’ve heard that later on they’ll diverge, so I’m interested to find out what the differences are.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

So super interesting and made me wish I could still go to space camp! I really hope I live to see us send someone to Mars.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

A fascinating look at the ways people have tried to prove the existence of an afterlife.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I knew Steve really enjoyed this book, so when I was selecting books to stay with me versus books that would be relegated to the basement, I decided to keep this one handy on the bookshelves. Then when i started listening to I Don’t Even Own a Television, I saw that one of their episodes was dedicated to this book. What?! I cried, But Steve really liked this book! So I decided to get to the bottom of things. I devoured this book in the car on the way to Colorado with my parents and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I listened to the podcast episode for this book and, yeah, I could sort of see where they were coming from, but I decided that I don’t care – I fell for the nostalgia. I liked this book.

Girl Walks Into a Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch

I’ve been writing these mini-reviews as I become inspired and this is the last one left. And I’m not inspired. Rachel Dratch seems likable enough, but I just feel kind of blah towards this book. Not bad, that’s for sure, but I can’t think of anything to say about it, so make of that what you will…

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #9) by Louise Penny

Louise Penny dominates my Facebook feed and I don’t even follow her! It’s that almost all of my friends from Borders adoooooooore her. So after chatting with Ruth, Missy, and Cayt a few weekends ago, I decided that I would finally drink the Kool-Aid. And it tastes gooooood! Unfortunately, I had to start with the 9th book in the series, but according to Louise Penny’s very own website, the books are written to stand alone. I would like to disagree (and I think Missy and Linda, at least, have my back). While I could follow along perfectly well with the story, it was clear that there were other, larger story arcs and character development that would have meant a bit of a deeper read had I started at the very beginning. But, as Linda pointed out, all this means is that I’ll get to read this one again when I’ve finished with the first eight.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Awesome, awesome book. Sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, always interesting. The main thing I took away from reading this book was that I, Anne of myblankpage, being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath my body to science, once any helpful organs have been donated.

Big Fat Lies That Women Tell Themselves: Ditch Your Inner Critic and Wake Up Your Inner Superstar by Amy Ahlers

I’ve never read a self-help book before, but I know self-confidence has always been a problem for me and decided that, as part of my get my life back together and get through this depression, I would set aside my reluctance and give it a go (though with a grain of salt). I liked the chatty, conversational tone the author strikes – it doesn’t feel condescending or anything, it feels like she’s speaking from having been there herself. But I will confess to an eye roll or two along the way and I didn’t really feel inspired to do the little challenges that go along with each Lie. However. I think I may need to revisit this one because last weekend, I was shopping for a dress to wear to Laura and Tyler’s wedding next weekend and found myself getting more and more frustrated. Finally, I was trudging through Younkers, my shoes wearing a blister into my toe, and with each painful step, a voice in my head said,”You fucking deserve that, you dumb fat fuck.” So, yeah, there’s a bit of insight into my inner critic and I definitely need to work on that.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

While I was reading it, I didn’t like it. But when I finished it, I was like “Huh. I think that was a really good book.” Sort of like a modern, short story, tangled, Dickensian web.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I’ll be honest. I did NOT like the main character. Not. One. Bit. But I liked the supporting characters and I found myself turning the pages despite myself. I could have done without the calculus, though. And the footnotes. Unlike Mary Roach, John Green does not pull them off. But I didn’t hate it, so…

Beware the White Devil!

The White Devil by Justin Evans

Argh! I can’t think of what to say about this book. I was in the mood for another ghost story, so I picked this one up, but I was never really taken in by it, even though I toughed it out to the end. I think it was that the characters didn’t particularly click for me – none of them were very likable, didn’t make good decisions, and, honestly, I didn’t think that they were very well fleshed out or consistent. The ghost was certainly creepy – and frankly, a little gross toward the end – but I didn’t really buy his motivation. So a kid shows up at Harrow who looks like Lord Byron and the ghost of his spurned lover goes nuts and starts killing people? Just because somebody looks like his old boyfriend? I don’t know.

But I did manage to finish it, so I guess it can’t have been all bad – near the end I was skimming just to find out what was going to happen (not that I cared about the characters it was happening to). Frankly, I’d say that if you want a good ghost story, pick up Anna Dressed in Blood instead of this one.

My rating: D+

In which I am a self-published ebook author!

It’s no $1,000,000 advance from Random House, but at least Mary Clockwork is finally out there! Dad did a lot of work to get it all formatted and uploaded to Smashwords and it’s finally all set to go. There have actually already been two copies purchased and downloaded!

But I need a favor from those of you who have already read it – could you go to the book’s product page on Smashwords and leave a (hopefully positive) review of it? You’ll have to create a free account with Smashwords to review it, I think, but having reviews up on its page will definitely help convince people that it’s worth the read! So please take just a moment and click on over and review!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I’ve been putting this off for a couple of reasons…

Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Mostly, writing this review is making me feel like I’m a pretty bad person. The author’s love for his wife and his grief at her loss really comes through and I appreciated Sheffield being so open and honest in his writing. And, I’ll admit it, I cried pretty darn hard during the chapters dealing with his wife’s death and his grieving process, but mostly I just couldn’t identify with either Sheffield or Renee. It may be because they are infinitely cooler than I’ll ever be, at least when it comes to music and being on top of the Next Big Thing – or it may be because they’re just enough older than me that even though I recognize some (about half, I’d say) of the bands and songs Sheffield mentions, I wasn’t grown-up enough to have the same sorts of memories associated with them that they do. I’m not sure I’m being clear – basically, when Sheffield and Renee were busy being a broke newlywed couple drinking beer and listening to The Smiths or Nirvana, I was a junior high kid singing along to Mariah Carey.

If you’re 10 years older than I am or you have an older sibling who was 10 years older than I was, you’ll probably find yourself liking Sheffield and Renee a lot better than I did. No matter how old you are, though, it will make you think about the fragility of life and love and cry a bit about it.

My rating: B-

What a lucky bitch!*

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

When I started this book, I kept thinking “Ugh, I’m gonna hate this lucky bitch” – I mean, she gets to eat at the most fabulous restaurants in New York City (in the 90s) on the New York Times payroll – jealous, much? But I didn’t hate her – she’s still a lucky bitch, but I definitely didn’t hate her.

She came across in her writing as funny and thoughtful and honest and, holy hell, does she know how to talk about food! It must be one of the hardest things to write about, right up there with music – how do you describe something in words that can be experienced with every sense except…well, reading isn’t a sense, but you know what I mean. But she definitely manages it – I could picture, smell, and almost taste every dish she wrote about, even the bad ones!

Part of the fun of the book is also the disguises she comes up with, completely disappearing into other personas in an attempt to dine anonymously – some bring out the best in her (Brenda) while others are the worst (Emily). I found her less pleasant identities a little awkward to read about as she really did go all out and very nearly become the characters she created, even the pretentious, rude ones and it wasn’t fun to read about her being horrid to waiters and every once in a while, her fellow diners. At her worst, Emily, it is Marion Cunningham of all people (not Ritchie’s mother, but the cookbook author instead) who brings her around and leads to one of my favorite moments in the book. I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s worth the slog through Emily’s night out to get to the end of the story.

But mostly it’s a love letter to the food scene in New York City – and not because all of the restaurants are fabulous, they’re not and she includes those reviews along with the positive ones (I think there’s only one restaurant that receives a 4-star review included in the book, I don’t know how many she [or, for that matter, other reviewers] handed down over the years she spent reviewing for the Times). It’s a love letter to the vibrancy of the variety and options available in New York – she goes to super fancy restaurants like The Rainbow Room, Le Cirque, and the Box Tree but she also goes to noodle joints (though it sounds like those aren’t cheap either) and a friend of hers takes her on a food tour of New York towards the end of the book that sounds like heaven.

I wish I had the financial resources – or the job at the Times – to gain her level of knowledge about food and wines because it sounds like it brings the experience to a whole other level.

My rating: B+ (I would have given her an A, but I’m a petty, petty blogger who can’t bring myself to give such a lucky bitch an A even though she probably deserves it)

*[Yes, I know she’s not just lucky, she’s talented and worked hard to get where she is, but I’m going to comfort myself with the lucky bitch thing.]

Ooh, a ghost story!

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

And actually a pretty darn good one! Thrills, chills, just the right amount of gore, and a romance that’s not a love-triangle (even if it is a little predictable). The premise is that some ghosts actually can hurt or even kill the living and Cas, inheriting his ability from his father who was killed doing his ghosthunting job, comes to town to kill Anna Dressed in Blood, a job that should be easier than it turns out to be.

Cas is likable, his schoolmates who get swept up in his exotic line of work are cute and not the stereotypes they initially seem to be (well, the jerk-jocks are, but that’s allowed), and Anna is pretty much a total bad-ass. My only beef is that, SPOILER, the cat dies (offscreen, but still). The rest is good, engrossing and a quick read – and apparently there’s a sequel, Girl of Nightmares! I’m really not sure how everything is going to wrap up because at the end of the day Anna’s, well, dead, but I’m anxious to be along for the ride.

My rating: B (I dunno, I liked it and I want to read more, but I don’t really feel like it is quite an A-worthy book)

New Year’s Resolution #2

Read. More. Books. (For fun, that is.)

Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked by Derek Landy

This is Book 7 in the fantastic Skulduggery Pleasant series and it certainly doesn’t disappoint! It has all the characteristics we’ve come to expect from Skulduggery and Co. – witty banter, Dickensian names, fights, chase scenes, mystery, spying, and, of course, magic.

As usual, the magical world (and the mortal world) is in danger from a big bad (or in this case, a big good) who is trying to destroy it for various reasons and it’s up to Valkryie and Skulduggery to save the day. But I think we’re nearing the end of the series, or at least near enough that Landy needs to get his ducks in a row for the big final showdown I’m expecting and he certainly follows through – I had to read the very last chapter quite a few times before I was so excited that he was actually going to go there. It involves a character that I’ve always found a little creepy for, until now, unfounded reasons and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

My rating: A

Fiction

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

I bought this book because the blurb on the front said that it was for “people who like Downton Abbey“…which is me! I loooooove Downton Abbey and I was in the mood for more upstairs-downstairs-romantic-history-type stories when I stumbled across this book.

I’d say the blurb is a little misleading in that, yes, it’s about an English manor house and, yes, it takes place during major English historical events (namely, World War II), but that’s about where the similarities to Downton Abbey end.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an enjoyable read! It took me a bit to get into it – the author’s writing feels a bit stilted at the beginning of the book and there are quite a few sentences that struck me as the kind of sentence that shows that the author is trying too hard to be evocative and, I don’t know, hyper-literary almost. But once I got into the author’s rhythms, I really found myself caught up in the story (well, the main romance I didn’t quite buy – I mean, I saw it coming and I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t really see where the emotions on the fellow’s side came from – the author did one of those tricks where the two mains meet and then, ta-da, we skip ahead a few months and they’re besties!).

It’s sounding like I’m being a little hard on the book, but it’s only because I was comparing it to Downton Abbey the whole time and it falls a little short of that, but as just a story, it was very engaging and it totally made me chuckle to myself and I was crying by the end, so I think, in the end, it was successful. I’d recommend it, but not necessarily in the same sentence as Downton Abbey.

Downton Arby’s, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. 😉

My rating: B-

Fiction: I’m not calling this LGBT Fiction on principle.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Heather and I made a deal – I would read her favorite book (Fingersmith) and she would read my favorite book (Three Men in a Boat). Clearly I love her more than she loves me because…voila! And I don’t see any reviews of Three Men in a Boat around anywhere, do you?

This book was really good! I’m not sure I bought the love story – the two main characters’ behavior did not convince me that they loved each other, let alone deserved to be together – but Sarah Waters really weaves a compelling tale. It’s also tres Dickensian – so many characters that seem unconnected and then one by one, everything clicks into place. And this book got me – I literally gasped and put it down and had to say “Heather! I just got to the part where (I’m not going to ruin it for you here)!” I think book 6 of Harry Potter was the last time a book made me do that (on a particular page turn), so that’s the company Sarah Waters is in.

My rating: A- (if the characters had been a bit more sympathetic, I would have upped the grade)

LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLLLLLLLLLLE!

Welcome to the first ever Three Men in Various Places SMACKDOWN!

In this corner, written seven years before our current champion but lacking a dog…it’s Three in Norway (By Two of Them)!

And in this corner, still laugh-out-loud funny over a hundred years after its publication and holding a very special place in your announcer’s heart; it’s the book that’s so good, its author was named twice…it’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)!

Okay, we all know how this is going to end, but when I saw that this Three in Norway (By Two of Them) was the inspiration for my favorite book in the history of the ever-ever, I figured I should give it a read. And, actually, I’m glad I did because it makes me appreciate Jerome K. Jerome’s writing ability even more. Not that Three in Norway is bad, it’s just…different. While they’re both ostensibly travelogues, I think only Three in Norway really is and I’m afraid I think that’s what makes it less enjoyable.

The authors’ voice takes a little getting used to as its written in a strange mix of third person and first person (no one ever refers to themselves as “I” but they do say “we”), but mostly it’s just quite…dry. I never really felt like I cared about the three characters and the three of them all seemed fairly interchangeable – unlike George, Harris and J. who are both charming and memorable.

Also, there’s a lot of fishing. I mean, a LOT of fishing. And reindeer hunting. Neither of which are really my thing and I don’t think it’s possible to make fishing seem exciting, so there are quite long stretches of story where I was just bored. One person I lent Three Men in a Boat to gave it back to me after they’d finished it and said “I didn’t really get it – nothing happened.” Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last much longer. Turns out all those asides and tangents that Jerome incorporates keeps things lively and interesting – otherwise it would just be three dudes in a boat on the Thames. Three in Norway, on the other hand, never ventures out of the present moment (or hardly ever does).

To be fair, I think the Two of Them were not going for the same comic effect that Jerome was – and if you’re wanting to go hunting and fishing in the wilds of Norway with Three in Norway as your guide, you’d probably be glad of that. But, really, apart from there being three men and the fact that they’re going somewhere, I would say there are actually very few similarities between the two (yes, I know Jerome originally did intend his book to be a genuine travelogue – thank goodness that didn’t work out!).

I dogeared a couple of Jerome-esque pages to show you that there are glimpses of a similar wit here and there:

Lighting a fire for breakfast was a toilsome busines, but at last we found some wood dry enough to burn. It continued raining in a nice keep-at-it-all-day-if-you-like kind of manner, so we resided in the tent, and read, and indulged in whisky and water for lunch to counteract any ill effects of the reading–for some of it was poetry. (p. 38)

They also get into one or two situations that would do George, Harris, and J. proud:

Soon the cauldron was heated and brought into the tent, and the eager crowd drew near with cups and spoons, and one lifted the lid, while another plunged his cup into the steaming savoury mess. And then arose a great cry of horror and desolation, and the sleeping valley rang with the wail of men in despair, for John had put the wrong pot on the fire, and we had been presented with boiling, dirty water in which the dinner-things had been washed up; while all the time the soup pot was quiet, untouched and cold in the corner of the tent where it is kept.

And speaking of their tent, these guys have a pretty sweet setup going! I mean, an actual camp with a stove they built themselves and everything – and they bake bread in it!

The one place where these three outshine George, Harris, and J. is in their actual woodsmen skills – George, Harris, and J. would have starved to death on the first day if they’d relied on fishing and hunting for their sustenance.

And I do have to give them credit for recognizing genius when they see it:

We all think Mark Twain the best writer for camp life that has yet been discovered, and we have three or four of his books here. Besides our library of light literature consists of Shakespeare, Longfellow, Dr. Johnson’s Table-talk, and novels by Whyte Melville, Walford, and Thackeray. But Mark and William get more work than all the rest. (p. 173)

Let’s be honest, we all knew this was never going to be a fair fight, but I think Three in Norway does an admirable job at the attempt even though it doesn’t quite make it. But if I ever go fishing in Norway, it’ll be the first book I turn to.

I’m keeping it short and sweet…

Sleepwalk With Me: And Other Painfully True Stories by Mike Birbiglia

You know what? I’ve been staring at this post for a while now, trying to think of what to say and I’m just going to have to take my cue from Virgil Thomson: I like Mike Birbiglia; I also like his comedy and his book.

My rating: B+ (And that’s only because he includes bits that he’s already used in his standup – if it had been all new material, I would have given it an A.)